Have Scientists Found the Cause of Alzheimer’s in Seniors?

Have Scientists Found the Cause of Alzheimer’s in Seniors?

Scientists, doctors, and other professionals are all part of a feverish search to discover the causes of Alzheimer’s, in the hopes that they can then find a cure for the dreaded disease. And there’s good reason for them to be racing the clock; according to the National Institute on Aging, more than 6 million Americans, most of them over the age of 65, may have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s. The disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.1

First identified in 1906, Alzheimer’s disease causes changes in brain tissue that can lead to memory loss, language problems, decreased cognitive ability, and unusual behaviors. The damage in the brain is attributed to amyloid plaques, or abnormal clumps of matter, as well as tau tangles, which are bundles of fibers. There is also a loss of neural connections in the brain. These are believed to contribute to the degeneration of the brain that is seen in Alzheimer’s.2

One of the most frightening aspects of Alzheimer’s is that the brain changes can occur many years before the symptoms begin, which means that by the time the symptoms appear, the brain can already be significantly damaged. Pinpointing brain changes very early on could be a good way for scientists to formulate effective treatments for the disease.3

Seniors should be proactive in making sure their health is the best it can be, and that can include using a medical alert system with fall detection. Why does this matter? Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury, according to the CDC.Any damage to the brain can lead to serious long-term problems, including an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. Older adults who suffered a TBI were 2.3 times more likely to develop the disease than those who had no history of brain injury.5

A medical alert pendant can be used to summon help quickly, preventing the consequences of falling down and not getting help for a long while.

What is the New Alzheimer’s Discovery?

In the pursuit of a deeper understanding of what causes Alzheimer’s, researchers at Northwestern Medicine chose to study not the brain, but the atmosphere the brain lives in. Cerebrospinal fluid, known as CSF for short, is the liquid that flows around your brain and spinal cord. This fluid does all sorts of good things, including helping your brain obtain nutrients, serving as a buffer that prevents brain injury if you suffer a hit to the head, and providing some immune protection.

That last point – immune protection for the brain – is what scientists honed in on for a study on CSF and the cells that flow through it. The study found that as someone ages, the CSF immune system changes, and in those with cognitive decline, the change is even more dramatic. The study looked at 45 healthy individuals between the ages of 54 and 83 years and compared their CSF immune cells to those of 14 adults known to have cognitive impairment. They found that those who suffered cognitive decline had cells that were more activated or inflamed. These “angry” cells were suspected to be less functional than the healthy cells.6

In addition, the study found that inflamed T-cells cloned themselves and then flowed through the CSF into the brain. According to SciTechDaily, those cells might contribute to the damage in the brain.7

How does this help in the search for a cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s? Scientists want to try blocking the T-cells. This can allow them to see what happens if the cloned cells aren’t allowed to enter the degenerating brain.8 Being able to block those cells could slow down or halt the damage to the brain. The sooner that happens, the better the odds of treating or stopping the disease.

The Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s has several stages, each of which brings progressively worse symptoms and changes in the brain. Late-onset Alzheimer’s is the most common and develops after the age of 65 or so. Early-onset Alzheimer’s can begin as early as a person’s 30s, but it’s pretty rare. Either one takes a person through the same stages.9 Here’s what to expect after a diagnosis:10

Preclinical stage: At this point, the changes in the brain have begun, but there might be no symptoms. The brain changes might be found on a scan and can warn you that the symptoms could start. However, it’s important to remember that for some, these brain changes never develop into dementia – it’s more of a “watchful waiting” situation.

If you don’t yet have a medical alert wireless system, now is the time to get one. Problems with aging can sneak up on you. When you get a preclinical diagnosis, it’s time to start thinking about how to stay safe and live as healthy of a life as you can, for as long as you can. Alert1 Medical Alerts can help you do that.

Mild (or early-stage): This is usually when someone begins to realize things are going wrong. Little things start happening more frequently, such as lapses of memory or judgment. It’s the point where friends and family members might start comparing notes about behavior. Some symptoms include:

·         Memory loss that affects day-to-day life, including losing track of dates, not knowing your location, forgetting information you just heard, or having trouble paying bills on time.

·         Losing a sense of motivation or initiative or being unable to be spontaneous. Mood and personality changes can also occur.

·         Poor judgment that leads to bad decisions, such as diving into debt.

·         Problem-solving becomes an issue, as do challenges with planning out things, from vacations to day-to-day life events.

·         Losing things or placing things in unusual places, such as putting a cell phone in the refrigerator.

·         Wandering around with no goal or getting lost.

·         Difficulty with normal daily tasks, such as bathing or preparing meals; doing those things might also take much longer than they used to.

·         Changes in attitude, including more anxiety or increased aggression.

Moderate: In this stage, a family caregiver will be kept quite busy with supervision, and it might be time to consider professional caregiving. At this point there is no doubt that dementia is happening. Symptoms include:

·         Withdrawing from social activities, friends, or loved ones.

·         Confusion and more memory loss, including forgetting important events in your history, both recent and from long ago. You might start to have problems recognizing friends and even close family members.

·         Trouble learning new things, thinking logically, organizing thoughts, or paying attention.

·         Difficulty with things that used to come easily to you, such as some tasks of daily living, speaking to others, reading or writing.

·         Issues with sleep patterns, including being more awake at night.

·         There could also be problems with coping with new situations, emotional outbursts, impulsive behavior, wandering, agitation, aggression, and other signs of emotional distress.

Severe (or late-stage): At this point, those with Alzheimer’s can no longer care for themselves. They are dependent upon caregivers during these last years of their life. The following might happen:

·         An inability to communicate, including an unawareness of surroundings or recent experiences.

·         Physical decline, including difficulty swallowing, weight loss, no interest in eating, dental problems, and more.

·         Incontinence, sleeping more often, seizures, and other signs that the body is shutting down.

Mild Cognitive Impairment vs Alzheimer’s

Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, is often an early sign of Alzheimer’s. But remember, not everyone with MCI will develop dementia. Most of those with MCI can still live independently and enjoy their normal activities of day-to-day life by making some adjustments to their lifestyle. The memory problems can include:11

·         Losing things more often than you used to, necessitating a method for keeping track – such as a hook for your keys that you always use or reminders around the home of where things are located.

·         Forgetting appointments or important events, like birthday parties or meetings. A calendar can help keep track, as can lists of things to do on a daily basis or things to remember.

·         Difficulty with communicating, especially because words don’t come to you like they used to. That “it’s on the tip of my tongue” feeling is a common sign.

Though these symptoms are things that all of us experience at one time or another, forgetting or losing things quite often, or having difficulty communicating more and more, are signs that MCI might be the culprit.

Those with mild cognitive impairment should consider putting some safety nets in place to protect them as they get older. Aging in place solutions for the home are a good idea, as is seeing the doctor on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of how you feel and what happens day-to-day is a good idea. It might also be time to consider an emergency response solution that will be right by your side in the event of accident or emergency. The peace of mind of knowing that help is only a push of the panic button away, can help seniors and elderly adults live a more healthy, independent, and confident life.